The Biden administration is requiring all federal employees and government contractors to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and will extend the mandate to companies with at least 100 employees. 

President Joe Biden signed two executive orders Thursday laying out the new requirements for feds and federal contractors, and announced other actions in an attempt to address the surge in COVID cases caused by the Delta variant.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said Thursday from the White House. He said more than 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot, but “we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.” That 25% minority "can cause a lot of damage," Biden said. "The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals [and] are overrunning emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer." 

Vaccines are safe and proven, Biden said. "Only one out of every 160,000 fully vaccinated Americans was hospitalized for COVID per day," Biden said citing data from this summer.

The order applying to federal workers says "each agency shall implement, to the extent consistent with applicable law, a program to require COVID-19 vaccination for all of its federal employees." Agencies had been required to ensure employees were vaccinated but also had been allowed to let unvaccinated workers who undergo weekly testing to wear masks and socially distance. News organizations such as Government Executive and The Washington Post, however, have reported that will no longer be an option.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees “to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work,” the White House said.

Biden said private industry has played an important role in the vaccination effort, specifically citing meatpacking giant Tyson Foods’ vaccination requirement, which has been incentivized with paid sick leave.

In a summary of the requirements, the White House said at the beginning of August, when Tyson announced its requirement, “only 45% of its workforce had gotten a shot. Today, it stands at 72%, meaning half of Tyson’s unvaccinated workers have now gotten a shot — well ahead of the company’s Nov. 1 deadline.”

The Consumer Brands Association, which represents many food companies, says the government needs to provide additional details on the new requirements as soon as possible. 

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“Our country’s ability to increase vaccination rates hinges on federal agencies offering clear, detailed and timely guidance in hours, not weeks," said the group's president and CEO, Geoff Freeman. "Across the federal government, we will need to see a degree of coordination, rapid response and private sector engagement to be successful. We look forward to working with the administration to increase vaccination rates of essential workers throughout the country.”

In addition to the vaccination requirement, the Biden plan, as outlined by the White House, includes the following:

  • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is taking action to require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies. This action builds on the vaccination requirement for nursing facilities recently announced by CMS, and will apply to nursing home staff as well as staff in hospitals and other CMS-regulated settings.”
  • The plan “calls on entertainment venues like sports arenas, large concert halls, and other venues where large groups of people gather to require that their patrons be vaccinated or show a negative test for entry.”
  • “To continue efforts to ensure that no worker loses a dollar of pay because they get vaccinated, OSHA is developing a rule that will require employers with more than 100 employees to provide paid time off for the time it takes for workers to get vaccinated or to recover if they are under the weather post-vaccination. This requirement will be implemented through the [Emergency Temporary Standard].”
  • “The Department of Defense is announcing a commitment to double the number of DOD teams of clinicians deployed to support hospitals battling a surge in COVID-19 cases. These clinicians will be available for mission assignment through FEMA’s response across surge states.”
  • “The administration will increase the average weekly pace of shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatment to states by a further 50% in September, continuing to accelerate the federal government’s efforts to deliver lifesaving COVID-19 treatment.”

The plan also calls for increased funding for school districts, and Biden reiterated his pledge to “backfill” salaries for educators whose pay has been docked just because they are implementing measures such as universal masking.

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